“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” — Special Olympics Oath
Christina Campbell has performed dance routines before hundreds of spectators. She has spoken to an audience of 2,000 people. And in 2007, at age 19, she traveled to China to compete at the Special Olympics. She came home with four silver medals and a gold.
It’s hard to believe that Campbell used to be quiet, timid and withdrawn. An intellectual disability made learning difficult for her. But then the Special Olympics changed her life.
“When I was younger in high school, I used to get teased a lot,” says Campbell in a speech. “I always got chosen last to be a partner in class activities, and I didn’t have a lot of close friends. All of this left me feeling sad and not included….
“Because of my involvement in Special Olympics, I learned that I could be successful. Special Olympics gave me confidence to be proud of myself…. I took what I learned in Special Olympics to high school and became the best I could be.”
The Special Olympics is a nonprofit organization, operating in more than 170 countries. It offers training and sporting competitions for 3.7 million children and adults with intellectual disabilities. It encourages physical fitness and promotes self-confidence. And it relies on thousands of volunteers to make it happen.
“We couldn’t run without volunteers,” says Nicole Aspinall. She works for a Special Olympics chapter.
“If we don’t have volunteers, we can’t run events…. If we didn’t have volunteers that were coming to coach, none of those kids would be able to play.” Volunteers coach the sports teams, including floor hockey, snowshoeing, curling, speed skating, bowling, soccer, softball and more.
Volunteers also help out at events. “Runners” as young as 10 sprint back and forth between the race tracks and registration, handing in race times. Teen volunteers escort athletes to various sporting events.
Many athletes participate in more than one sport. The volunteers ensure that the athletes get to their assigned lanes. They also help carry awards to the podium.
“It’s not unusual to see high school kids doing this on their own,” says Maggie Dittburner. She manages sports training at Special Olympics Illinois. At some events, she says about a third of the volunteers are under the age of 18. Often, teens get involved through a school or church group. Other times, events are held at high schools.
“We thank (our volunteers) for coming out and volunteering. And they’re like, ‘Oh no, I got more back out of it than I gave,'” says Dittburner. “There’s a lot of satisfaction in watching someone’s accomplishments and just being there to support their efforts.”
Each state has its own Special Olympics chapter. Check out your state’s website for volunteer opportunities and contact the volunteer coordinator.